Alberta to pilot COVID-19 testing at border that could shorten quarantine time

Travellers entering Canada by land or air through Alberta will soon have the option of being tested for COVID-19 at the border in a move that could shorten quarantine times — in a pilot project that’s the first of its kind in Canada, Premier Jason Kenney announced Thursday.

The mandatory quarantine period for returning international travellers will be maintained for now. But the 14-day day self-isolation period could be shortened to about 48 hours if a traveller receives a negative COVID-19 test result at one of two border crossings in the province. 

“We simply must move forward to develop policies to facilitate safe travel,” Kenney said during a news conference Thursday, calling it an important day.

“Though a lot of work lies ahead, we can see a return to normal travel.”

Starting Nov. 2, the new COVID-19 testing option will be offered at the Coutts land border crossing in southern Alberta and the Calgary International Airport.

All travellers who choose not to participate in the pilot will have to abide by the normal 14-day quarantine.

News of the pilot project comes a day after Alberta broke two COVID-19 records, for the most new cases in a single day, 406, and for the most active cases. 

Kenney was speaking from his home in Edmonton, where he is in self-isolation after one of his government ministers tested positive for COVID-19 a day earlier. Kenney tested negative Wednesday night but said he’d continue with the isolation period until Oct. 29.

The voluntary screening option announced Thursday is a joint pilot project between the Province of Alberta and the Government of Canada.

It will be available for foreign essential workers — truckers, health-care workers and other workers who are exempt from the current federal travel ban — and any Canadian citizens returning to the country through Alberta.

Travellers who test negative must commit to 2nd test

If the test comes back negative, travellers will be allowed to leave their place of quarantine as long as they commit to getting a second test on day six or seven after arrival, at a community pharmacy participating in the pilot program, the province said. 

Participants will be closely monitored through daily symptoms checks and be required to follow enhanced preventive health measures, such as wearing masks in public places and avoiding visiting high-risk groups.

WATCH | How contact tracing difficulties are hampering Alberta’s attempts to control COVID-19:

COVID-19 cases are rising in Alberta, and officials say difficulties with contact tracing could hamper the province’s ability to slow the spread. 3:49

Pilot could expand to Edmonton airport in new year

Kenney said if the traveller pilot project goes well, it will be expanded to the airport in Edmonton early in the new year.

“This is an announcement that I have been waiting for, and that we have all been waiting for, for months.” Calgary Airport Authority president Bob Sartor.

This innovative, government-approved, science-based testing trial for international arriving guests is the lifeline that airports and airline partners need to instill confidence in air travel once again.”

The pilot was also hailed by Calgary-based airline WestJet.

“Today’s announcement is actually the first piece of good news we have received as an airline since February 29th, when I sat on a Sunday afternoon watching our bookings get outstripped by cancellations and eventually fall by up to 95 per cent,” said WestJet CEO Ed Sims.

Alberta breaks single-day COVID-19 records

Alberta hit a new record for the most new cases in a single day on Wednesday, at 406. The previous single-day record for reported new cases was 356 on Oct.18. During the first wave of the pandemic, the province hit 351 new cases on April 23.

The province also broke the record for the most active cases with 3,372 active cases on Wednesday. The previous record was set Tuesday, with 3,203.

WATCH | See what settings are at a higher risk for COVID-19 transmission:

Two infectious disease doctors answer viewer questions about high-risk settings for COVID-19 transmission and how data about transmission could help people make decisions about how to live their lives. 6:11

The government announced that Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard tested positive on Wednesday afternoon and was experiencing mild symptoms.

Apart from Kenney, Transportation Minister Ric McIver and United Conservative Party MLAs Angela Pitt, Peter Guthrie and Nathan Neudorff are also self-isolating because they had interactions with Allard last week, the statement said, though they are not showing symptoms.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, is expected to give the latest provincial COVID-19 update at 3:30 p.m. MT Thursday and CBC News will carry it live.

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